MANCHESTER, England, January 14 – Paul Scholes’ first league goal at Old Trafford in nearly three years vindicated the decision of Sir Alex Ferguson to call the Manchester United midfielder out of retirement as his side beat Bolton 3-0.
With Scholes, 37, starting a game for the first time in eight months, and Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick each scoring late in the second half, victory allowed United to move level on points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.
Scholes also eased the embarrassment of team-mate Wayne Rooney, who missed the perfect opportunity to put his side ahead midway through the first half from the penalty spot.
That kick was awarded, after 21 minutes, when Zat Knight pushed Welbeck in the back as the youngster raced onto Rooney’s through ball.
But the England centre-forward, who scored from his own missed penalty at Manchester City last weekend, struck a firm spot kick which Adam Bogdan, diving to his right, was able to push to safety.
It took until the final minute of the first half for Scholes, and United, finally to turn their relentless pressure into a goal as the 37-year-old struck the 103rd league goal of his career and his first home league goal since scoring against Fulham in February 2009.
Nani’s progress into the area was blocked but the ball broke for Rooney, who picked out Scholes with a far-post cross which the veteran converted from six yards.
United had been in the ascendancy from the first minute when Nani drove forward menacingly and placed a side-footed shot just beyond the far post.
Then a slide-rule pass from Carrick found Welbeck beyond a Bolton back four without the services of £7 million Gary Cahill, who was at Chelsea having a medical ahead of his move south.
Welbeck hit an accurate first-team shot and Bogdan did well to parry it and help steer the ball behind for a corner.
United were gathering momentum and, after a series of corners, Nani whipped in a dangerous low centre which Bogdan did well to push to safety with a one-handed dive.
Rooney and Welbeck linked well as the former unleashed a 20-yard strike which deflected behind off Sam Ricketts and Nani’s corner was met by a superb Rooney header which Mark Davies cleared off the Bolton line.
But Bolton seemed to have taken the steam out of United’s electric start and Rooney’s 38th minute 25-yard free-kick, easily gathered by Bogdan on his line, was needed to kick-start the Reds.
Rooney followed up with a stinging shot which had Bogdan scurrying to the foot of his right-hand post and the goal finally allowed United some breathing space.
It might have been different for the struggling visitors, early in the second period, if David Ngog had not skied his shot hopelessly high and wide after good work and a short, intelligent pass from Mark Davies.
Instead, United settled into what looked to be another dominant half, albeit a frustrating one for long periods. Patrice Evra headed wide from a Nani corner and Antonio Valencia launched a dangerous right-wing attack only to see his driven, near-post cross kept out by Bogdan.
Rooney summed up the frustration when he played a one-two with Welbeck and rolled a shot inches wide from the edge of the Bolton area and the England forward was similarly denied just after the hour when he slid in at full stretch, from a Valencia cross, just missing the target.
There was also a moment of concern for United as Rafael was required to clear Gretar Steinsson’s header, from a Martin Petrov corner, off the line.
However, all United anxiety was banished 15 minutes from time when Rooney was tackled by David Wheater and the ball ran kindly into the area for Welbeck.
He made no mistake with a clinical finish from 14 yards, although he was injured in a challenge by Ricketts in the process and could play no further part in the match.
Carrick completed what had become a routine afternoon for the defending league champions after 83 minutes when he found space open before him and placed a 22-yard shot into the bottom left-hand corner.